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Road Test Porsche Cayman R

If you’re looking for a comfortable Porsche, this isn’t it Add to ...

Is the 2012 Porsche Cayman R a better performance car than the 911? Is it so brilliant a package, really? Would a fire-breathing gearhead, a weekend warrior carving corners on local track day want this street rod over a 911? Enquiring minds wonder.

In fact, this curious one went to see if the Cayman R is the one Porsche ahead of all others for which Porsche CEO Matthias Mueller would tap his own bank account. “This one, the Cayman R coupe, yes,” he told me.

Mueller fancies himself something of a Michael Schumacher, it seems – so much so that when he was introduced as Porsche’s new CEO at the Geneva auto show in March, he took the stage in a racing suit.

For $75,685 – or $86,060 for my well-loaded test car – Mueller would get the latest iteration of the Cayman and the most serious by far.

It is a lightweight (1,295-kg), high-performance (330-horsepower) version of the Cayman S. More than anything, what sets this Cayman apart is a weight-loss program. Porsche says 55 kg have been stripped from the Cayman S, while 10 horsepower have been added.

With its chassis tweaked and lowered by some 20 mm and the 3.4-litre flat-six – that lovely “boxer” engine – mated to a six-speed manual gearbox, the Cayman R will do 0-100 km/hour in 5.0 seconds. That’s what you get when the power-to-weight ratio is a tidy 3.9 kg/hp.

Why the Cayman R, or at least why the Cayman R now? The Cayman is starting to age, as is the 911. A new 911 is coming in the next few months, while the Cayman is expected to finish its life some time at the end of 2012.

Porsche, like other auto makers, has a plan when existing products start to age. A common short-term solution is to jazz up the lineup with specialty models like the Cayman R. Nothing wrong with that, not when the final product is so compelling and certainly not when the premium over the $70,900 Cayman S is so modest.

This story actually is all about physics – the study of matter and its motion through space. In a car, the key elements are mass (how much matter an object has) and weight (how strongly gravity pulls on that matter), not to mention energy and force.

Porsche, of course, has removed matter and cut weight. Start with the wheels. The standard ones are the forged 19-inchers from the Boxster Spyder and they are shod with 235/35ZR19 rubber up front, 265/35ZR19 at the rear. The wheels and tires not only improve grip over the Cayman S, but they make the car slightly wider at the wheels and also drop 5.0 kg of rolling weight.

The weight reduction/matter removal program goes on, too: exterior door panels are aluminum, shaving 15 kg or 33 pounds, while additional weight was shed, for instance, by using Boxster Spyder-style inner door panels with pull-strap openers.

So this is a very serious car. But don’t believe me; just have a look at that fat anti-roll bar in the rear, the front spoiler and the massive fixed rear wing. The idea is to decrease front aerodynamic lift by 15 per cent and rear lift by 40 per cent. A proper limited-slip rear differential completes the package.

Weight distribution with the six-speed manual remains 44 per cent front and 56 per cent rear. However, with all the changes, and they include higher springs rates, this Cayman rides about 20 mm lower than the Cayman S. Lower ride height equals a lower centre of gravity. Combine that with less mass and reduced weight, not to mention better aerodynamics, and the result is marvellous if you are a Matthias Mueller-type.

For the record, add-ons include the PDK automatic/manual transmission ($4,180) and bi-xenon and cornering lights for $1,780. If you want automatic air conditioning, you’ll pay $2,010 more. You don’t need them and you might not want them, though – not if you’re serious.

And quite honestly, you need to be such a person if you are going to buy this Porsche. I mean, there is no Porsche Active Suspension Management available and that means you are riding on a very real and very hard suspension setup all the time.

Sure, negative wheel camber front and rear has been increased and that does improve turn-in response for cornering. But put a cup of coffee in one of the pop-out holders and it will squirt all over the car when you run over a dime – even with a lid snapped tight.

On the other hand, if you are bent on driving into corners and screaming out of them with your hair on fire, this is your Porsche. The chassis and powertrain are made of this.

The steering is magnificent in terms of feel and responsiveness. Peak power comes at 7,400 rpm and the larger-diameter exhaust plays in this. Goose the throttle and you’re rewarded with the classic sound of a Porsche flat-six.

So there you have it. The Cayman R is ideal for hard-core types with gasoline in their veins – better than a 911. Enquiring minds now know.

Tech specs

2012 Porsche Cayman R

Type: High-performance sports coupe

Base Price: $75,685 (freight $1,085)

Engine: 3.4-litre, six-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 330 hp/273 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Drive: Rrear-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 14.0 city/6.6 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Audi TTS, BMW 1-Series Coupe, Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport coupe, Nissan GT-R

jcato@globeandmail.com

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